UCSB teaching assistants overwhelmed by consistently increasing class sizes and workloads have begun taking unionized action in an effort to improve working conditions.

In a bid to mitigate the alleged increase in overtime, nearly 100 teaching assistants, graders and tutors recently participated in a “grade in” earlier this month, conducting their work openly in the Arbor to showcase the allegedly excessive workload they receive.

Academic student employees in association with the United Auto Workers labor union are also currently engaged in bargaining with the University of California in order to reduce class sizes and workloads.

According to UAW Local 2865 President Scott Bailey Clifthorne, TAs and other employees represented by the union account for a majority of academic employees on UC campuses. She said that as a result, their working conditions directly affect the educational experience at UC campuses.

“The most important reason for negotiating is that our TAs, graders and tutors – both graduate and undergraduate students – make up 60 to 70 percent of the face time [at the University], and in a potent way, our people are the conditions,” Bailey Clifthorne said. “There has been an enormous increase in class size across the state, and it has become more difficult to provide quality.”

UAW Recording Secretary Cassandra Engeman, a teaching assistant in UCSB’s sociology department who participated in the “grade in,” said the purpose of the demonstration was to expose the extensive amount of work undertaken by academic student employees. Engeman said she feels the hours she works are not recognized by the UC.

“Most of our work we do privately in our offices,” she said. “The demonstration was to show that teaching assistants are workers, and that class size has an impact on the workload. We wanted to emphasize the fact that we are workers, a fact which we feel is often lost to the University.”

The UAW is currently negotiating the renewal of a contract with the UC that would ensure the union’s continued input on issues such as class sizes and working conditions.

According to Bailey Clifthorne, the union aspires to conclude negotiations by October 2007, contractually obligating the UC to recognize the legal influence of the union.

“The union has a voice, a binding input and stands legally as an equal power to the University,” Bailey Clifthorne said. “If the labor union [achieves] a negotiated contract, the University is legally obligated under the law to come to the table and negotiate with us on issues such as class size.”